In September 2003, the Pentagon started giving soldiers stationed in Iraq two-week leaves in the largest R & R program since the Vietnam War. Soldiers on R & R or Emergency Leave are flown by the military to Germany or three airports in the United States, Baltimore/Washington, Dallas/Fort Worth, or Atlanta, for free.
But, until recently, the soldiers have been responsible for getting the rest of the way home. Congress stepped in and provided funding for this purpose on November 3, 2003, however, this funding is not yet available and may not be sufficient for all the troops or troops on “Emergency Leave.”
More than 470 soldiers a day are arriving in the U.S. Until the Department of Defense can authorize payment for their connecting flights under the new law, many soldiers often have to purchase high-priced, last minute tickets to get home to their families. The new law does not help soldiers on “Emergency Leave” who still must pay for their domestic travel to get home for the death, illness or birth of a family member.
To address this situation, Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland’s 2nd Congressional District has started “Operation Hero Miles.” Operation Hero Miles communicates information to the American public, the troops and their families about airline mileage donation programs so these soldiers can see their families and loved ones as soon as possible.
Already, large numbers of Americans have donated their unused frequent flyer miles to the Department of Defense to help troops travel home and spend quality time with their loved ones, without worrying about how much it will cost.
Delta kicked the program off with a staggering donation of 10 million miles. Southwest Airlines then donated 20 ticket vouchers to the USO. United Airlines matched Delta’s donation, and American followed up. AirTran then donated 8,000 flight credits, enough for 500 round trip tickets.
Visit the program’s Web site, http://www.heromiles.org, to find out more.